Superstitions Can’t Hurt You (Knock On Wood)

March 2016 Feature Brady L. Kay

I’ve talked to some houseboaters who sheepishly admit they had a harder time naming their boat than they did their own children. I guess there is something about “permanently” placing your boat’s name on the side for the world to see that has owners debating for weeks. I’ve even heard of families getting together and voting on possibilities just to help narrow down their long list.

While naming a new houseboat has its challenges, what do you do if your boat already has a name? Second owners have debated this for years with some choosing to stay with the original name no matter what. I think finding a used boat you like that is within your budget is hard enough without adding to the challenge of also finding a boat name that you can live with. 

One of the most popular items of nautical folklore is the notion that changing the name on a boat will somehow “anger” the Sea Gods, cursing the boat with bad luck. I’m thinking it might be better to take my chances with bad luck than be stuck with some cheesy pun on the side of my houseboat, but that’s just me. You can’t tell me you believe every boating superstition out there, do you? There are plenty of superstitions like don’t sail on Fridays, Thursdays, the first Monday in April, or the second day in August, etc. Apparently the only good day to set sail is on a Sunday; who knew?

However, while I strongly believe you should name your houseboat whatever you’d like, renaming your boat is not something to be taken lightly. Throughout history sailors have sworn that the unluckiest ships are those who have defied the gods and changed their names.

Legend has it that each and every vessel is recorded by name in the Ledger of the Deep and is personally known by Poseidon, the god of the sea. In order to change the name of a boat, you have to purge its name from the Ledger of the Deep and from Poseidon’s memory with a de-naming ceremony. Yeah, a party!

This means you have to get rid of the boat’s previous identity by purging all traces of the old name so be prepared to toss out lifejackets, cozies, key chains and anything else you might have. As part of the purging ceremony, some believe you can’t just paint over the old name, but rather you have to sand it off. 

Depending on what you choose to believe, one ceremony suggests you write the old name on a metal tag in water-soluble ink and buy good-quality champagne. Either read the official renaming ceremony words on the top deck in front of guests or mutter it to yourself in private, but the words have to be uttered. One ceremony even has you taking turns addressing Poseidon and then the gods of the winds to ensure you face fair winds and smooth seas in the future. In this most thorough rendition, you pour champagne into the sea from west to east after addressing Poseidon, and pour champagne on each four compass points, drop the nametag into the water, and finish up by pouring more from east to west. More casual ceremonies say the words addressed to Poseidon and then just spray champagne on the bow, without being stingy of course.

Now and only now are you okay to drink what’s left over, celebrate, and bring onboard everything that has the new name recorded. Arguably a small price to pay to get the name you want without getting a curse that you don’t.  

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